By Liz Cooper | Drama
A teenage girl who finds an abandoned baby is faced with a decision that changes their lives.

Wolf is a 17-year-old teen girl without much family support, in and out of care and deeply angry at the world. When she gets into a fight at her latest home, she finds herself homeless and reduced to selling drugs on the street to survive.

But one day at the squat she’s taking shelter in, she finds an abandoned baby, left behind by its addict parents. Wolf reluctantly attempts to get help for the baby, leading to a decision that will change the course of both of their lives.

This powerful dramatic short — written and directed by Liz Cooper, produced by Bethany Bruce and executive produced by Kristina Ceyton and Bridget Ikin — is a compelling portrait of a girl on the edge, marginalized by the world and left to fend for herself in a hostile world with nothing but her street smarts and ferocious strength to protect herself with.

With its documentary-style camerawork and its gritty cinematography, the film operates in the mode of social realism. It begins with a small storm of violence, as Wolf brutally beats another girl, captured in visceral images and sound. Lead performer Kerri Ragusa plays Wolf with a raw, unapologetic and unvarnished honesty, one who has no illusions about rising above her difficult circumstances. Instead, Wolf is all about survival in a difficult, bleak world, and is willing to lash out and fight to protect herself.

Ragusa’s portrayal is unforgiving, flinty and strongly physical, and she often carries herself as if hunted but ready to attack if messed with. Her volatility adds a palpable tension to the narrative, particularly as she grapples with the question of what to do with the abandoned baby.

Wolf’s face is often an angry mask, but as she brings the baby about town with her on her drug deals, both her confusion and tension escalate, especially as she’s confronted with a being even more alone and helpless than she is. She then makes a key decision, which proves a turning point for both her and the baby.

With an arc like Wolf’s, it would be easy to default to feel-good sentiment. But the film’s intelligent commitment to social observation — and how cycles of poverty, addiction and social deprivation perpetuate themselves — prevent it from falling into that trap, alongside its portrayal of female rage and Ragusa’s strong performance.

Thanks to the film’s commitment to honesty and authenticity — and not watering down a character who will batter others in order to protect herself from being battered by poverty and violence herself — the audience will question almost to the story’s end what Wolf will do with the baby.

But “Wolf” ends with an unexpected encounter, in which the character who has tried to remain invincible and aggressive unvulnerable for most of her life finally shows the craving for connection and love she desires.

The result is a beautifully earned and hard-won emotional resonance, for the audience and for the character — and shows how even the hardest-bitten, most aggressive people often have the strongest desire for understanding and connection, no matter what. In recognizing this within ourselves as well as others, we allow for small shifts of perspective that lead to greater empathy and — hopefully — more compassionate decisions for ourselves and others.

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